On 15 January 2019, following a two-month pilot, the TEL team switched on the Blackboard Ally plug-in across all modules on Moodle. In brief, if a lecturer has uploaded some digital course content to Moodle (typically Word documents, Powerpoint presentations or PDF files) then Ally permits students to download that content in an alternative format (electronic Braille, html, epub, tagged pdf, or mp3). This is great for accessibility, of course, but this is also an inclusive approach: any student, not just one with a particular need, might choose to download a Word document in mp3 format (to listen to on the go) or in epub format (to get the benefit of reflowable text on a e-reader). The TEL team will be providing students with more information about Ally over the coming weeks, but in this post I want to mention a feature of Ally that is of interest to authors of digital course content.
Ally generates an institutional report about the accessibility of course content on the institution’s VLE. So we now know what the most common accessibility issues are for the 38,462 course content files on Moodle. The top five are (drum-roll please):
- The document has contrast issues. Just under half of all documents (48%, to be precise) have contrast issues.
- The document contains images without a description. Roughly 43% of all documents commit this accessibility sin.
- The document has tables that don’t have any headers. Just over a quarter (26%) of all documents have this issue; I suspect that the documents without this issue are simply those without tables.
- The document does not have any headers. This is a problem for 24% of documents.
- The document is missing a title. Again, 24% of documents have this problem.
The first four are classed as major accessibility issues; the fifth issue is classed as minor.
At first glance this seems shocking: about half of all documents suffer from a major accessibility issue to do with contrast. When we compare ourselves against other institutions, however, we learn that these issues seem to be common across the HE sector; indeed, we seem to be doing slightly better than many institutions. And the important thing is, now that we know what the issues are, we can start to address them. Over time, we should be able to drastically reduce the number of documents with these common – and easily fixable – problems.
One piece of good news: we have a relatively small number of documents that possess accessibility issues classed as severe. The most common severe issue at Portsmouth – just as it is at other universities – involves scanned PDFs that have not been put through OCR. There might be good, valid reasons why a scanned PDF has been used. But accessibility would certainly improve if authors minimised their use of such files.